Kansas City Meet-Up

I’m currently visiting Kansas, where most of my family lives, and as I lay on the bed in the upstairs bedroom of my favorite Aunt’s house, my muscles ache and my body feels so heavy from the past few days with some of the most incredible Ballet friends I’ve ever gotten the chance to meet. (Jana said it best #onaballethigh)

We began planning the trip a few months ago when I realized two of my favorite adult ballet instagrammers lived near my family. There was a vague thought amongst my sister and I to make a trip to Kansas sometime this summer, so we began planning it. As we did so, this absolutely incredible Ballet meet up opportunity also came to life in such an incredible way.

Joanna, Hannah, Jana, Kristin, and I were all able to meet up over the span of three days to hang out, get to know each other, talk all things Ballet and adult Ballet, hear of each other’s projects and endeavors, and endlessly quote Mean Girls. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.

It started Sunday night, when we all actually met for the first time at dinner. Even from the first moment, everything felt comfortable. I think it says a lot of the quality of these ladies character to be able to get in a group of five and every single one be able to blend so seamlessly together. Never before have I been in a group of such kind, selfless, down to earth people as I was these past few days.

Jana has a successful YouTube channel, which is already linked on my resources tab (ballerinas by night) and she vlogged the trip as well, so please subscribe if you want the behind the scenes footage of all the shenanigans we got into.

Monday, we began at Joanna’s house for an incredible brunch, as well as mutual obsession over her cat, Caspian, who deserves his own special shout out for being so adorable. (Check out her book, Cantique on her website or Amazon.) From there, we were able to go to Eleve Dancewear downtown. I had been to their store once before, but this was my first time since they moved to their new location. It’s quite a bit larger, with absolutely lovely aesthetics. Seeing the Dancewear up close and being able to feel it and try on the different styles was really nice, as well as so helpful. It’s nice to see that their colors are true to what you see online, so you know that what you’re seeing is really what you’re getting.

That afternoon, Jana (who, if you didn’t know, Also happens to be a pretty baller photographer) did a photo shoot with each of us, which truly was special.

I had a moment I wasn’t really expecting while shooting where I realized that this really was the end of this part of my life. That I’ll still keep my shoes and probably play around with them here and there, but as for dancing in them and for sure performing, that chapter is officially closed. I got kinda choked up about it, but thankfully didn’t cry in front of all my new friends. The dream of being on pointe is what drove me to actually push through all the fears and anxieties of being a beginner. It was the seemingly odd dream I was chasing that started me on a ride I never thought I’d even have the opportunity to do. I thought getting pointe shoes was dreaming big–I had no idea. So to know that these past 6.5 years of Ballet has lead me to do so much in such a short amount of time, and that the fueling part of that fire is now behind me, you get a bit choked up. I was a bit frustrated at myself because I think I still forget my body can’t do what it used to be able to, even just a year ago. I’m sure this will be an ongoing battle for a bit. But Jana was so warm and made me feel nothing but comfortable. I knew she knew what she was doing, and she was really good at instructing us on what corrections to make. I automatically trusted her words and judgement. And honestly, what better way to close out such an incredible chapter of my life than being given the unimaginable opportunity to be shot by someone so incredible? To document this beautiful part of my life, surrounded by what have quickly become some of my dearest friends? I couldn’t have asked for more.

I loved, Also, getting to see my friends get their pictures taken. I can’t really explain what it’s like. That certain muse of a thing that draws us to in Ballet, that feeling that begs us to dance, that subtle voice in the back of our heads that encourages us to dream–seeing that embodied as they put on tutus and skirts and pointe shoes, floating through movements, knowing that this moment was being frozen in time, it really was special to watch. We all learned so much about ourselves and this pursuit of Ballet, and I’m so grateful for it.

This morning we took a class at Kansas City Ballet. (!!!) It was the absolutely perfect way to cap off this entire adventure.

The teacher was warm, and clearly knowledgeable. (And also really loved rond de jambes) I appreciated how well she was able to read the room and give combinations, and also how she would look dancers in the eye with intention, making sure each of us were set and following.

I was more than nervous, going into a place that’s completely new. I never really know what to say to teachers about the long list of things that are wrong with me. I used to avoid it and just push through and hope it wouldn’t get in the way, but now I don’t have that option. I have to speak up. I’m not very good at that. Thankfully, Joanna was kind and let the teacher know about our meet up and in that told her that I would have to modify. The teacher was so chill about it all, it made all the anxiety I was feeling melt away.

Even before the first plie, I was so grateful to be there. This is another experience I never could have even dreamed of doing. As she gave us our first combination, I felt a rush of peace as I realized that Ballet is, essentially, the same anywhere. I could be completely surrounded by unfamiliar, my world caving in around me, but if I can just get myself to a class, or even if I can just do one by myself, all of that fades to the background and I find myself centered, at least for a moment.

I wasn’t sure going into it if I would try and do a modified center, or just sit it out completely. I had made myself push through and stay for a few classes at home to try and gauge where I was endurance-wise, but still going into it couldn’t really tell where I was. As soon as class began, I decided to do a full out barre and sit out center. I know my heart wanted to do the whole thing, but I had to be realistic and do what was best. The last thing I wanted to do was to push myself too far and do something I would regret later.

Sitting out center also gave me a unique advantage. I couldn’t help but peek glances at my friends during barre, but even then I was having to focus so hard to keep my brain the least foggy as possible that I didn’t really get to see them dancing. It was so cool to be able to watch these people I know through pictures or videos they post on social media come to life. The little quirks and nuances we each have coming to life and painting the picture of who they are in shades unique to them. The way they held their arms, the tilt of their heads, the extension of their fingers. It really was a sight to behold.

Having followed along with barre videos Jana has on her YouTube channel, it was a bit surreal actually doing barre with her. It made me deal an instant peace, like there was a familiarity in this old friend of mine I had literally just met two days before. Getting to watch her in center was like watching grace embodied. She floats with such elegant lines and intention, striving to do her best, but not letting the effort be visible except in her exceptional dancing. The class was full of typical prodigies and ex professionals, but still my eyes would draw to her in her group.

I was able to stand next to Hannah at the barre, which I was super grateful for. We were on a wall that had windows looking down into one of the summer intensive classes, which made the moment even more surreal. I had seen some videos of a variation Hannah is working on on her own, but to be able to see her in a class was really special. She dances with a kindness I don’t know how fully to describe. It was as though watching her dance made me feel as though that sense of comfort I come to the studio to find, especially when things are rough, had been embodied in her dancing. I appreciated it so much.

Kristin is one of those types that when you see her dance, you automatically pin her as a pro. Nailing multiple turns and executing jumps with great precision, it could seem like she was just another “one of those.” Except that she wasn’t. She has this subtle beauty that set her apart from “those” and made her a true joy to watch. She was attentive to corrections others may just shove off, and even when you think there’s no way it could be done better than she had done it, she’d implement the general correction and be even better still. It truly was mind blowing.

Watching Joanna, even for a fleeting moment, it’s clear she is the type that just gets it. Her lines are precise and elegant, which just dooms anything else she does to be absolutely incredible. I found myself wishing so badly I could have my camera to capture the moments she was creating, completely letting the music flow through her as she embodied every note the pianist struck. If you didn’t know she had only been dancing as long as she had, you’d never guess it. You’d think she’d been in this most of her life with the way her technique seems flawless. Watching her was like watching a fairy dance among flowers, or fog on the top of a lake at sunrise. Getting to know her, I know that she has such a truly beautiful soul, and I believe her dancing effortlessly expresses that.

I, myself, pushed myself in the moments I did have, hoping to soak up every bit of this opportunity I was given. I was sweating before we even finished plies, which I joke about but haven’t actually done in a while. The combinations were good and detailed, making me feel like I can actually implement corrections is been given in classes before. I didn’t get any direct corrections this class, but I did get a head nod at a balance I miraculously held longer than I ever had, but she wouldn’t know that. Maybe it was the inspiration of the people surrounding me, maybe it was the effort I was putting into executing the movements correctly, I don’t know, but this class left my heart feeling so full, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to have this entire experience with these girls.

I find myself feeling like I used to when Mom would pick me up from summer camp now that it’s over. I want to stay on this high a little longer, but I know that reality is already knocking on my door. My hope is that I can carry these days and what I’ve learned in them with me and use them to hopefully be a better version of myself in my every day life.

I definitely need to journal, as there’s much held in my heart from these past few days. So many beautiful moments I want to remember for years to come. I wish I had taken more pictures, but i feel that just shows how great the company truly was.

Here are a few anyway, as well as Polaroid shenanigans.

(Thank you, girls, for sending me group pictures as well as others. And thank you all for being so lovely and hilarious and just absolutely wonderful. I appreciate y’all more than I’ll ever have words for. ❤️)

(Why are you so obsessed with me? And filtered water.)

Nice things.

This week has been a particularly rough one health-wise.

Nothing extreme, but I over did it early in the week and have been dragging since Monday morning. I’m still getting used to the fact that being chronically fatigued is my reality and figuring out where my boundaries lie, but even in that every day is different from the next. You’re never quite sure what you’re gonna get. Still, you can be wise and stick to your limits. I’m still trying to find mine, and thought that I could add in a short walk once a week before the day gets really hot, but it turned out to be too much for me. I’m sad about this, since walking is where I see the most and best results overall, but I’m trying to accept it and be grateful for all the things I can still do.

I have added in water aerobics twice a week with my friend Krista, which had been absolutely wonderful. We’re the youngest be at least 30 years, but we’re in with a pretty good group this summer. The instructor we have right now is in high school still (or just graduated? Something like that) and is from Krista’s Church. She is such a sweet heart and really makes the class feel comfortable.

I quickly made friends with the 85-year-old in the class, Charlene, as we compared rheumatologist experiences and which canes we liked and why. Another lady also chimed in advice on my back, which I was grateful for. It’s nice to be around “my people,” even if they are grandparents and great grandparents. Being able to talk with someone about all of this who legitimately gets it because they’re going through the same thing, and also doesn’t talk to me like I’m a dainty youngin’ but rather an equal, it’s been really nice. I’m also super grateful to have Krista along for this ride. We’re CFS-ers together!

Although it’s been difficult to deal my butt to the studio some days, I love it. It’s more than worth it, and I know it’s not taking anything from me to teach, but rather helping me not just melt I to my bed and disappear there. I want to stay as active as I can for as long as I can, and being in an environment where I actually like to go every day is really wonderful. Not to mention the kids.

This summer I have really lucked out with some wonderful kids. I only have one class (out of 8 a week) that is a challenging, but even then they’re great if I have my assistants to help me out. (They’re life savers, I tell ya.) my 3-5 year olds are absolutely precious, having random bursts where they run up to me and hug my leg before they take their turn across the floor, faces beaming.

One of them today had missed a class or two. She came in a little late, so she missed the beginning where we all say our names. As she’s standing in line she asks, “what’s your name?” To which I say, “I’m Miss Emilee.” She replies, “Oh. Miss Emilee? This class is really fun. I like it a lot and I’m glad I’m here.” This is about the moment I became a liquid state and melted right there on the floor. She’s one of the older ones, and I’m always a bit concerned in the Summer dynamic that my 5 year olds will get bored being with so many 3 year olds. I was so glad to know that she was having a great time and it didn’t feel too “baby-ish” for her.

I have two sisters that I teach on Tuesday’s, one in my 3-5 and one in my 6-8. It’s their first time in Ballet, but they fell in love with the move Leap and asked to join Ballet. Their mom is a classics pianist and decided to sign them up. They are absolutely precious and have been soaking up everything I show them, which warms my heart as a teacher. This past Tuesday, the oldest was giving me a million hugs after class, asked her mom if she could take a picture of us, told me she wanted to print it out and frame it, and asked if I could come over to her house and dance ballet with her. I absolutely love kids and their unapologetic love that just spills out of them.

Another mom was in the foyer, watching her daughter dance in the class after mine. As I went to walk back to the office, she stopped me and thanked me for being such a positive influence on these kids. She told me how much it meant to her to see all the kids love me so much and how important it is for them to have someone like that in their lives and how rare it seems to be. She told me how she wished she had it growing up and hopes her daughter can have that. I asked if I teach her daughter and she said no and pointed her out to me in class. I thanked her so much for her words and told her how I didn’t really have that growing up either, and when I’d see flashes of it I clung to it. How I remember how it felt having it in those moments, and if I can be that to any one of these girls than that is success to me.

But really, as much as I’m told I inspire these kids and mean so much to them, they inspire me and mean so much to me. They’re my grounding. Knowing that I matter, even to these tiny humans, is the greatest honor in my life. It makes the days where I don’t want to get out of bed because I’ve found myself too far in the “dark place” worth trying just one more time. To have the opportunity to get to be surrounded by these little ones 5 days a week gives my life so much meaning. I’m beyond grateful, there aren’t even words.

Ballet has given me more than I ever could have hoped or expected. To think that I almost didn’t take that first class absolutely blows my mind. My life would be nothing like what it is. I don’t know what I would be doing now that I’ve gotten sick and had to quit my full time job. I wouldn’t have most of the friends I have, I wouldn’t know so many of the incredible people I know. I wouldn’t have gained the perspectives I have gained from meeting so many wonderful people from so many different places all over the world. I hate to even imagine my life without Ballet.

I am so grateful, I can’t say it enough. And every day I still get to step foot Into that studio is a day I cherish.

Also, side note, that Mom definitely didn’t have to say these nice things to me. She could have just kept it to herself. But she said them, and I can’t tell you what it means to hear them. If you think something nice about someone, even if they’re a stranger, say them. You may never know what it means to them to hear it.

Begin. (Again.)

Monday began the classes for our studio’s summer session.

I taught my first class of three to five year olds. There were thirteen of them. I was alone.
It could have been so much worse, honestly, but I did have quite a few “talkers” in the class, so it was a bit like herding cats. I didn’t get near as far in class as I would have liked, but all the kids did do all the things I asked, so I’m calling it a win. Towards the end, our studio owner came in to check on me. (There was a long line of parents registering their kids, many of whom were in my class, and she had been helping with that for most of the class time.) I only had eight kids registered ahead of time, giving myself the false sense of comfort that this class wouldn’t be too crazy. *Insert maniacal laughing here*

When our studio owner came in, she only had to corral a kid or two, and reiterate the “No talking” rule a few times. At the end of class, she looked at me and told me she was impressed with how I handled the class. She even commented on it again the next day to some of the other teachers that were there. It really made me feel good to hear that I was holding my own, even when it was quite a challenge.

The ME/CFS has been pretty intense here the past couple of weeks. I haven’t been sleeping well at night, which only exacerbates the problem. I had to be up early to put the house I was dog sitting at in order before leaving to the next house I am currently dog sitting at, then babysit for a couple hours before teaching. All of this on a long day the day before, and having not caught up from the previous weekend still. The kids really do help lift my spirits, even if they can be a bit challenging. It gives me the sense that I matter. That I’m still able to do something worthwhile with my life, even if it’s in a way I never expected. I’m so incredibly grateful to still be well enough to teach so many tiny nuggets, having even a brief brush stroke in the tapestry of their story. I hope it is a bright one in the grand picture of their life.

After I taught my class, I stayed so I could attend the Adult Ballet class. I haven’t been able to take an entire ballet class for over a year, so I wasn’t really expecting much. My hope was to get through barre and see how things went and go from there.

I was nervous, to say the least. So much has changed in the past year since I became sick. I’m nowhere near the level I was before I had to quit so abruptly. Even if, for some reason, the chronic fatigue went away, I still have the herniated disks in my back that are hitting nerves to consider. Thankfully, the class consisted of a few familiar faces, greeting me and letting me know how much they’ve missed me this past year. I’m sure I complained and explained more than anyone cared to hear. I tend to talk when I’m nervous, as though explaining things will somehow make it easier to handle. I still haven’t figured out why I do this, but recognizing it is the first step, right?

I noticed immediately the difference the herniated disks make in my dancing. Grand Battements were lower than 45 degrees on one side, and even that still caused some discomfort. Rond de jambes were a bit painful, and holding my core and thinking about turn out put pressure on muscles I had forgotten were so important, causing various joints to feel a bit of pain. I modified quite a bit, grateful that Ms. Munro knew about everything that was going on and that I didn’t have to be afraid that she would come and adjust me into a position my body can no longer make anymore.

Even as I felt all the twinges and tweaks of pain from this new version of my body I’m still accepting, I felt something I had missed more than there are words for. That all encompassing feeling when you know you’re doing everything you’ve been training to do the last however many years you’ve been dancing (6.5 for me, if you include the last year of not dancing.) You feel your body in alignment and know that your head is tilting where it needs to as you move, eyes following the line of the movement. It’s the feeling we all live for, the same one that can overcome us when we are on stage and really take in the moment of everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve. This time, I wasn’t on stage. I was in the studio I have grown to know as my second home, surrounded by old friends and new, hearing my teacher call out the combinations as I held on to the same barre that has been there longer than I have. It was a moment I believe my soul has been longing for.

This past year has held more changes than I could have ever expected. Not only was I diagnosed with ME/CFS, I was also dropped by my doctor as a lost cause, unwilling to hear me out or dig deeper into what is causing all the other things that seem to line up with a diagnosis she wasn’t willing to give me (though she toed the line as close as she could.) I’ve had to try and sort out what this meant for my quality of life and what I needed to do to try and keep it from getting worse, with no help from medical professionals. A few months later, Hurricane Harvey came and barreled through my hometown, ten months post storm and my parents house still stands like a ruin, gutted and full of holes and mold, taunting us as we fight with insurance companies and contractors. It changed the entire demographic of everything familiar to me. Places I used to frequent just don’t exist anymore, friends that lived down the street just took the insurance pay out and left, starting over somewhere else. Landmarks and street signs and places that made the town feel familiar and safe were gone, some damaged beyond repair. Home looks different now. In all that, my illness became more severe, causing me to have to leave my good and steady job.

Life as I knew it is completely different now. The one thing that has been consistent is the dance studio, but even that has had to have some adjustment, simply because I’m not the person I used to be. I can’t do shows, so my weekend aren’t consumed with rehearsals like they used to be. I hardly see all the friends I’ve made in classes since I can’t attend anymore. Even the things that are familiar are different.

And even though dance as I know it is different, that feeling is still there, grounding me in ways I didn’t know were still possible.

To my surprise, my brain held up more than I was expecting. The fatigue was greatly evident, and my joints and muscles were protesting, but I was able to stay past barre, cautious though I was.

I still had to avoid any sort of petite allegro, and when we got to turns I realized it had been a solid year since I had done pirouettes, but I was there, I was able to participate.

This was the start of me beginning.

Again.

I know I more than likely won’t be able to continue into the school year, simply because the classes go later and it does take me about 40 minutes to drive home and the classes are on the nights before I’ll have to be up early. But it does make me feel good to know that it’s not something I have to fully give up on just yet. And honestly, even if my health still remains in decline, I think ballet is something that will remain in me, to some degree, even if it’s not as prominent as I would like.

I only ended up having to sit out the grand jete combination we did at the very end, which was such a pleasant surprise to me. My brain felt pretty cloudy afterwards, and my body was weak and sore already, but I wasn’t shaking like I had before. I didn’t have to sit around and wait before I felt like I could handle driving home. I had enough presence of mind to focus safely without worrying if I might do the odd sort of black out thing where I space so hard its as if I fell asleep with my eyes open.

Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling sufficiently exhausted from how much effort I used the day before, but in a weird way it also had a tinge of feeling rewarding. I’ll still have to find a balance, and realistically I’ll need to find other ways to stay active since ballet will more than likely be too exhaustive for me to keep up with as much as I’d like, but that’s okay. I still get to keep my toes in the water through teaching, which I am increasingly grateful for.

Since my chiropractor–the only medical professional to believe me to any degree–has let me know that becoming stagnant will cause my health to decrease more rapidly, I have done what I can to find ways to still remain mobile. I replaced my walking shoes that the hurricane claimed and have also signed up for a water aerobics class with my friend Krista, the first class being today. I could feel it in my bones, but I am hopeful for how much it will help strengthen everything that has been so neglected, and in a way that doesn’t cause as much strain on my joints. (Plus I’m so happy to have someone to do it with me.)

There are a few exciting things happening this month that I can’t wait to tell y’all about, so please stay tuned as they unfold and if you have instagram, follow there for updates on a giveaway that will be happening soon! If you’re a fellow dancer, you won’t want to miss this one.

Please appreciate this “Expectation vs. Reality photo set from class Monday 😂

Yeah, but.

The studio has been on a break since recital. We’ll reopen next week when I’ll be teaching 8 classes a week ranging in age from 3-8 years old. To say I am excited is a major understatement. I love these kids, and I’m looking forward to being around them all again.

In these weeks, I have been doing quite a bit of reevaluation. Summer means earlier class times, which means if I try to stay for adult ballet I can get home way earlier than 10 pm. A few of the mom’s of my students from this last year are going to be taking the Monday class and asked if I would be there. I want to at least try. Plus, there’s a class I’ll be taking in June that I want to be prepared for as much as I can. (I know I can’t control what my body does and how my energy levels are more than I’m already doing, but I can at least know where I am currently and know what I’m getting myself into.)

(Anyway.)

I miss being in ballet. I miss that rejuvenating exhaustion that comes from a long and exhausting class. I miss seeing little bits of progress. I miss making goals and reaching them. I miss being with my friends and seeing them improve. I miss challenging myself. I miss having goals to strive to achieve. I miss working to progress towards this silly little dream of mine, and feeling that sense of pride in myself that came in facing the fear of something new to make it happen.

I used to tell my mom when she would ask me how long I was going to do this ballet thing that I would dance until my legs fell off, and then find a way to keep dancing. To me, the worst thing I could think of was losing my legs. You can’t dance without legs, right? But I’ve heard of people making it happen with a prosthesis. I’ve seen people attend artEmotion’s adult ballet intensive in a wheelchair. Surely I could find a way to do this forever. But what happens when you don’t have the energy? What happens when your body works against you and makes it difficult to get out of bed? What happens when you get out of bed, but standing hurts? Or when you get tired so fast that by the time barre is over you can hardly form a sentence together and have to sit for 45 minutes before you can even think of driving home?

I’ve done my best to take time to really rest and reevaluate since quitting my job. To do a sort of trial and error to see how much I can tolerate and how much rest I need to function.

Obviously, I haven’t gotten to fully test this out with ballet yet, but I feel I can get a pretty good gauge of what it would cost me to stay for a class. But can I really? Will I ever get back to who I was before? Will I ever be able to stay for a full class again? Is this just the beginning of this illness as I know it? Is this the best I’ll ever be again?

The overwhelming fears began to creep in, as they’re so good at doing, accompanied by all the questions I nor anyone else have any answers to. How in the heck am I supposed to know what to do or how to do it? And what’s the point in trying if trying could potentially just make me worse off faster? Why try if success might not even be possible?

Since I don’t have work to report to, it’s made me more available for dog sitting. Memorial Day Weekend is notably a popular one for this and this year I have found myself in an absolutely wonderful home with the sweetest dogs. It’s been a good, safe place for me to really practice the things I need to do for myself to try and take care of myself the best I can. While being here, it’s safe to say I’ve watched a good amount of movies, one of them being Soul Surfer, a movie about the life of Bethany Hamilton, a girl my age who lost her arm in a shark attack. This seemed like an all but certain end to her budding surfing career, but she found a way to make a comeback as a pro surfer. I’ve seen this movie, I own it, I appreciate Bethany’s story and have even heard her speak before when she came to town, an experience I learned much from and greatly appreciate. I almost didn’t watch the movie, feeling like it would be such a stereotypical thing to do. I tried watching something else, but ended up back on it shortly.

And I’m so glad I did.

Seeing the movie takes me back to 2003, when surfer brands were a trend in our house, especially after I had just come back from a missions trip to Hawaii that summer. This was also the last “normal year,” the official end of my childhood as I knew it. Nostalgia was almost overwhelming, perhaps one more reason I was hesitant to watching it, especially given that I’m dog sitting for a family from Hawaii who are currently in Hawaii. As I revisited Bethany’s story, I watched as the familiar points were made: She has her normal life, she gets bit by a shark, she figures out how to come to terms with it, she learns how to handle her new normal. As I watched, I began to see everything in a new light, I realized that having ME/CFS and whatever else I don’t have a diagnosis for is my “shark bite”, that I’m in the phase of having to learn how to handle my new normal. I am at the point where I decide if I will let this diagnosis hold me back. I get to decide where I go from here.

I found myself thinking,
“Yeah, but, she lost an arm and mine has to do with energy. It’s kind of hard to dance when it’s hard to get out of bed.”

“Yeah, but, she had the immense support of her family.”

“Yeah, but, she was younger, she still believed anything was possible then.”

“Yeah, but, my life is hard, I’m up against so much. I do most of life on my own.”

“Yeah, but, if I try and fail then it costs me dearly. It can cause me to not be able to do the things I’m relying on for income now. This could sink me.”

“Yeah, but.” “Yeah, but.” “Yeah, but.”

When I realized all the excuses I was making in my head, it was all I could do to keep from shaking myself until I snapped out of it. Do I seriously think that losing a freaking arm in a shark attack is “easy”? Am I really that thick? She was thirteen when she lost her arm and was back in the water within a month, having to completely relearn absolutely everything she knew about surfing. Nothing about losing an arm is “easy” by any standards. She had to decide for herself if she was going to let this keep her from what she loved, if she was going to let this dictate her life, or if she was going to do everything in her power to fight through it. She made the decision to fight, and not only that, but to realize the unique position she was now in. That losing an arm didn’t mean her story was over, it meant it took a different turn, and it was up to her to decide if she wanted to make the most of that turn or let the story subsequently end there.

My life has taken an unexpected and undefined turn. I’m at the point where I have to decide if I’m going to let it end here or if I’m going to do what I can to make the most of this. I’m not the only one rowing this boat, and even if I were I know that there are people out there also rowing similar boats that could see my story and apply it to their own lives, just like I did with Bethany.

I had brunch with a dance friend from my old studio today, and she made a really good point. She told me, “I used to read your blog and empathize, and I’d like to think I knew what you were writing about, but now that I’ve experienced it, I understand.

I feel this way towards the movie. I’ve seen it, and I knew the story, I know that the details of the movie aren’t “Hollywood-ified” but stay rather true to the actual events, I’ve even heard it from her own mouth. But I’m in a different place now. The story means more to me now. I understand on a level deeper than before.

If it wasn’t obvious by my recent blog posts, and how much I’ve been writing about coming to terms with illness and all that, I’ve been trying to figure out where my place is in the ballet world now. And I find it fitting that it all seems to have come full circle. I now find myself having to begin again. Obviously, not from the very beginning, but from enough of it to have to rebuild strength and find where I can realistically go from here.

This summer marks the start of beginning again. Of fighting to find my balance and where ballet truly fits into that. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend more classes and have more here to report, but we’ll see how it goes.

I’m nervous, but excited. I really don’t have any idea what to expect, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to say about whatever ends up happening. I hope y’all will still be around to read about it. Thank you for being here. ❤

Recital 2018

I taught four ballet classes this year. I taught ages spanning from 3-9, and it was my first year teaching over the age of 6. This brings in a bit of depth in their training you don’t necessarily see with the younger ones. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but now that the year is officially over, reflecting back on it leaves my heart feeling full.

My Wednesday class of 5-6 year olds was my only dance I had on the Friday recital night. Fifteen excited dancers in one small dressing room found a way to jump start my tired heart with their giggles and hugs, excitement absolutely soaking in to my bloodstream just from laying eyes on their lit up faces. They were in the middle of the first half, and they did absolutely wonderfully. I was a bit nervous about the beginning since their piece started with the first faint start of the music, but they heard it and did so great. They wanted to go out and do it again, which was so precious.

Saturday I had my older girls, the 6-8 year old class, first. They were the second dance, and I was grateful. My brain can get full of movements and theirs seems to be the one I space on, even though I know I know it. Thankfully, this only happened in rehearsal and not during the performance. I took a bit of a risk with this class, giving them things that were just a bit out of their depth, but they all rose to it, and I couldn’t be more proud. Even my one dancer who couldn’t possible care less about Ballet and seemed to love to make sure we knew it got out there and did the dance, not getting in anyone’s way as she did it. I’m sad that many of the girls are aging out of the class range I teach, but I am so beyond proud of how much they have grown. Their hunger for more lights a fire in me I forgot to be there. This entire class holds a special place in my heart.

Next we’re my tiny little nuggets, my 3-4 year olds. This is the class that filled me with such joy as they just were unapologetically themselves. The tiniest one, I absolutely couldn’t watch her without having a smile break across my face. They are just so stinking cute and their love and light that spilled out of their tiny bodies filled the room, soaking into the pores of my skin, filling chambers of my heart I didn’t even know were suffocating. I hope I’m able to keep that memory alive in my heart forever. They also did really well, remembering their dance and doing it well while simultaneously just being so adorable I don’t know how the audience didn’t melt all over the place.

My last class was my Friday 5-6 year olds. Many of these girls were my students last year and had already captured my heart. Having them again was a peace and comfort I didn’t know id need this year. Familiar faces looking up at me with smiles now losing teeth as they excitedly told me about it before class. Kids new to me this year quickly joining their ranks of winning my heart over, their dreams and determination to be everything their heart hopes to be inspiring me every week. They got out there and nailed their dance, including the ones that we weren’t too sure how they’d do that day. They all rose and I’m so proud of their hard work.

I was given more flowers this recital than I think I ever received dancing in them, and seeing them has encouraged my heart more than I knew possible. Little reminders telling me that I matter, and that what I do is significant, even if there are days that tell me otherwise. One of the students I had last year gave me this candle, and the scent of it ended up becoming such a comfort to me after the hurricane changed so much of what I knew. I was sad as I watched the wax burn lower and lower, knowing soon I wouldn’t have it anymore. She caught wind and gave me another one this year, and there aren’t words to express my gratitude. It’s the little things, the sweet cards and the hugs around my legs cause they can’t reach any higher. It’s them hugging my neck so tightly when I reach down as they tell me how much their going to miss me or that I’m their favorite. It’s their faces lighting up when I say hello to them as they walk into the theatre, or hearing them whisper, “that’s my teacher!” As I walk by. It’s seeing their bond with my assistants who love them so dearly and genuinely care about their growth as dancers, perhaps seeing themselves in these pint sized ballerinas and recognizing the dreams in their hearts.

I saw some of my students from last year that weren’t in my class this year, which also melted me. Seeing them recognize me, hearing their mom’s excited tones, watching them side stage and seeing their improvement.

These kids are the light that shines through the darkness that can so quickly creep in. I cherish every day I’m able to teach them, and am so grateful to have the opportunity to do so.

I’m still here.

“I miss the joy of dancing.”

Reading those words on a notecard attached to pointe shoes was the moment the documentary “Unrest” had me crying.

Weeping.

Even now, I’m held up in bed, not allowing myself to do anything today besides recital this evening because I have done too much this week and next week begins it all again, and I’m weeping as my fingers stroke the keys of my laptop, trying to find words for this post that has been sitting on my heart with the weight of an elephant for a while now.

I’ve known about this documentary. I’ve had friends watch it and message me about it. But, until now, I’ve avoided watching it. I guess partially because I’m a bit afraid to accept that this is my reality. I thought I had, I thought I was doing well at processing it and what it means to have this diagnosis and the uncertainties that come with it. I thought I was doing well. But I’m not. I have a long road ahead of me, full of uncertainties and bound to be lonely, and frankly that is terrifying.

But, today is ME/CFS Awareness day, which stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is the only thing my blood work has ever shown without a doubt, which lead to the first time a doctor believed me that something is wrong here. Today, I chose to finally watch this documentary, done by someone I could never thank enough for her bravery to put on blast a condition that more people are dealing with than those with MS by double. Try googling “Cases of MS in US” and see how quickly you get an answer. Now, try googling “Cases of ME in the US” and you’ll struggle. Change it from ME to CFS, and you finally start getting somewhere, but it’s not hard to realize that it is under researched and under funded. We have the lowest amount of funding from the NIH, largely due to the fact that we aren’t believed.

Ever heard stories from back in the day when women had hysteria? They were locked up in mental institutions and labeled as mentally unfit because of the very same condition I struggle with. And it’s hindering everything.

I’ll save you from a soap box of how wrong this is and instead encourage you to watch Unrest on Netflix, as Jennifer Brea so perfectly captures what living with this is like in such a raw and real way it leaves no room for doubt at all. It goes through Jen’s story, as well as the stories of people she has met and the struggles they face as people with ME/CFS, or those with loved ones struggling. It’s a beautiful representation of the millions of voices that go unheard, fading into the void of the condition, ignored by those not forced to see it. It shines light on many of the facets that play into the stigma of this condition and why there is such a struggle to learn anything about it at all. It’s incredible, whether you know someone with ME/CFS or not.

Today is ME/CFS Awareness Day, and I am aware that I have this condition, and that it is slowly whittling away at who I am. If you read my last post you’ll know that I had to quit my full time job due to this illness. It’s been a week, and I thought I knew what to expect going into this, and maybe I knew as much as I could, but what I am learning as I go has left me emotional, to say the least. My entire world is changing. Everything I knew about it is different now, and everything I could hope for in the future is uncertain.

Most people got ME/CFS after some sort of terrible fever. They recovered from the fever, but were never quite the same. As far as I remember, I never got a fever, and even my rheumatologist couldn’t explain how I could come down with ME/CFS without exposure to mono, but really that’s all sort of relative anyway to the fact that so little is known about this disease. She’s the same doctor I saw last month that wrote me off as a hopeless cause she can’t do anything else for. My Primary Care Physician moved to Houston, as is common for this area if we ever have a doctor that actually cares and is worth anything much, so now I’m back to square one. I have to find a new PCP to go any further with anything, but it’s not that simple. I have to find one that will believe me. And if I say too much, they’ll write me off as someone with mental deficiencies causing it all, and if I say too little they won’t see the severity of it all. After all, I look just fine. Not to mention that I also do not have insurance, so all of this is done out of pocket, which is fabulous for someone who lives alone, without a full time job, and who has blown through her savings on all the specialists she’s already seen.

ME/CFS is a spectrum disorder, which means everyone is different in how they handle it and what their bodies can tolerate. It also means that just because you’re one way now doesn’t mean you won’t be something completely different in a year, a month, an hour, or even the next minute.

So while I have had to quit my full time job, as of right now I can still teach. It helps that classes are in small bursts, which makes it more manageable and easier to tolerate. What I don’t know is if this will be the case forever. I have seen such a rapid decline since diagnosis, and even in the six months before that when I first began noticing symptoms that I know better than to expect to be back to what I used to be. And honestly, if I were able to just stay where I am currently, I would count that a massive win, but even that seems unlikely. It’s hard to know what to expect, not only because of how little is known about this disease, but also due to the fact that we literally have no clue how I contracted it. I’ve never had mono, I rarely get “normal people sick,” the only thing I can actuate it to is a genetic condition that doctors also don’t know much about and are too afraid of how little they know about it to diagnose me with. Except for my chiropractor. He is 100% certain I have hEDS, but I don’t believe he has the diagnostic authority to say so. What he does have is the power to sign off on a disability parking placard, and right now that is everything. I’m trying to mentally prepare myself as best I can for the inevitable people who will tell me I shouldn’t be taking up the spot from someone “who actually needs it” and if I’ll just walk away or if it’ll be worth trying to explain to them that I am one of those people even if I don’t look it and that this is actually mine, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

One thing I am absolutely incredibly grateful for is the fact that I didn’t hesitate in taking those first steps that lead me on this path of dance back before I was sick. I accomplished more in those five and a half years than I ever thought would be possible. And even if I never improve past where I am today, those memories are real. They stay with me. I know I did that and nothing can take that away from me. I won’t move forward in regret of all the chances I didn’t take, but have pride in my heart that I faced the fear of the unknown and rejection and took the literal steps to make my dreams of dancing come true.

I am also grateful for the people I do have in my life. Having a chronic illness is a freaking lonely road that no one can prepare you for, especially when you’re in the phases of coming to terms with the fact that this is now your reality, whether it’s in the beginning, or you’re deep in the trenches and another wave of it washes over you. It makes you feel guilty as hell that you’re not who you used to be, as well as a whole heap of other emotions I’m still a little too proud to admit. Maybe I’ll lose some of that pride as this goes on, but just know that it freaking sucks and it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. I have friends that are forgiving and understanding. Friends that offer to help me with absolutely trivial tasks I can no longer do on my own. Friends that don’t hold it against me when I have to cancel plans again. Friends that are in the same boat and act as a support as we navigate these rough seas together.

Quite uniquely to this generation, I have friends online, and these have to be some of the dearest of all. On specifically has a whole laundry list of chronic illnesses of her own, in and out of hospitals, and still finds ways to dance when she’s able. To say she inspires me is the least of words I could find, but I don’t know if there are any adequate enough to express what having her in my life means. She’s the one who most recently told me about what watching UnRest meant to her and how she empathized with me. Honestly, I felt unworthy, as I am truly so fortunate to have as much health as I do. I can still get out of bed most day, I can still teach, I can still live alone, I’ve never been hospitalized for this, I’m still able to pay my bills and lead a mostly normal life. But the greatest gift she gives me is that of her story. She shows me that even in the darkest of times, we can still find hope. That our story still matters, that we still matter. That we have a voice and it’s our choice whether or not we use it.

I’ve been so hesitant to write as much as I do about my health issues. I don’t want to disinterest my audience that came for the dancing and now find themselves with this person who isn’t what they signed up for. But instead what I’ve found is my readers have increased. I’ve found other dancers also dealing with the same or similar illnesses, as well as the struggles that come with it. I’ve found this entire network of people out there navigating the waters as I am. And that is truly a gift I never expected, one I can never repay.

I still struggle to believe that this is my reality. Ever day it seems to become a little more clear, and I know I still have much to discover and process with it all. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still weeping as I’m writing this, and I never used to be a crier. But this is my reality. This is my story now. This is who I am and the lot I’ve drawn and it’s up to me how I choose to handle it.

I choose to use the voice I have. I choose to make the most of it. I choose to feel everything that comes with this, to push through and be as raw and real as I can about what this new reality is like. If not for myself, then for the person out there finding themselves in a similar boat, weeping over the dreams they’ll never get to achieve, struggling to find the strength to begin thinking about forming new dreams. I choose to do my best to be to someone else what these incredible women have been to me.

Jennifer, Bailey, thank you for being shining examples in such a freaking dark world. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

If you’d like more information on what you can do to help the #millionsmissing as they seemingly disappear into the void this illness creates, please check out the website here.

If you’d like to know about my friend Bailey and her story, please see her instagram here.

And please, take a moment to look around you. Notice those simple things you have, those day to day moments, and cherish them. Then, take a look at your life. See it for the beautiful story it is, even if it’s nothing like you expected it would turn out. It’s your story. The pen is in your hands. Please, please, find the courage to keep writing. Your story is great, and it’s up to you to write it.

You matter. You are seen. You are cherished.

#TimeForUnrest

Changes.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, knowing it was one I would have to write but having no clue how I would actually do it.

It feels like such a big and heavy thing, but also nonchalant. Do I really need to write about it? Does this really matter in the grand scheme of this ballet story of mine?

It does. And I do.

As y’all know, I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as well as a list of other ailments. It’s caused me to have to slow down most everything in my life, including quite a bit at dance. I did my best to give up everything I could so that I could somehow muster enough energy to get through the work days required of me. It was a slow fade, one that took a little more of myself with each inch it required me to give. One less class here, then no shows, then no classes at all. While all this was happening, I was subconsciously sacrificing things in my personal life as well. Dishes would pile up for weeks, laundry would stack, before I knew it I couldn’t see the surfaces of my house and I didn’t have any bit of strength in me to do anything about it. I found myself hiring kids from dance saving up for summer intensives just to do my dishes. This became my reality; commonplace.

When I slowed down long enough to truly evaluate my life and where it had ended up, I realized I hadn’t been to a grocery store in three months. The thought of walking in, going through and getting what I needed, walking back to the car, driving home, and putting it all away left me almost in a panic at how exhausting it was, let alone the thought of cooking and having to clean up afterwards.

I couldn’t do it all.

But this isn’t stuff I can sacrifice. These aren’t the things people judge me for, by saying it’s not necessary, or it’s frivolous and I should give it up to better myself in this way or that. These are the basic needs of life.

And this isn’t working out.

I knew I had to stick it out through our busy season at the office, and told myself once it was over I would reevaluate and see what my doctor had to say at the appointment I had scheduled the day after tax season ended. (that was a nightmare I don’t feel like reliving, so we’ll just get to the point here.)

I am no longer physically able to work a 9-5 job.

In fact, the worst thing someone with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can do is push through on “good days,” and even worse on the bad ones. The best thing to do is things in small bursts, with lots of rest in between, and to let yourself sleep when you’re tired, even if it’s in the middle of the day. I have to strategically eat smaller meals, and do what I can to conserve energy when I can. Coincidentally, lack of physical activity makes it all worse. The fact that I’m not dancing is only dramatizing what is already in sharp decline.

My last day was today, which is exactly two weeks from the day I told my boss what my doctor said. I wasn’t sure if I’d leave this soon or if they’d keep me on part time for a bit, but this seems to be the best case for everyone.

It’s bitter sweet, and terrifying to say the least, but I’m truly hopeful it will be beneficial.

And honestly, I have no choice. When I listened to my dear friends who encouraged me to stop long enough to see where my life was and where it was heading, reality screamed at me. This isn’t normal. I should be able to walk through a grocery store, I should be able to handle washing some dishes or doing a load of laundry without passing out, I should be able to eat food without feeling so incredibly nauseous and exhausted, as though my body was using every ounce of energy just to try to digest, I should be able to get through a day without feeling like I could close my eyes at any given moment and sleep for a couple hours. My life isn’t normal anymore, and I can’t fool myself into thinking I can keep going as if it were.

The hardest part of all this is going against the expectations I feel have been placed on me. This isn’t something I really ever thought I struggled with, but the deeper I’ve gone in myself to fully grasp and understand what I’m doing and why it’s necessary, the more I’ve realized how much I’ve let people’s opinions of me and my life hold me back. I’ve known that I struggle with fear, but this was more than I had let myself realize before.

It’s taken quite a bit of soul searching to be even remotely sort of okay with it all, but I can’t help but feel hopeful at the prospects I have ahead, even if they don’t all seem to make sense or have a place yet. I know this is something I need to do, and that the pieces will come together as they need to, I just have to make myself keep walking in the direction of what my heart is telling me and where peace is leading. God has never lead me wrong before, why would He now?

I’m an ambassador for LIVE and we have weekly challenges. Last week’s was to create a “Life List.” It’s like a bucket list, but instead of big and drastic far-off things, its a list of things you want to do with your life right now, or small things you can do to get you closer to the big goals. I’m posting mine a little late realizing that so much of what was on my list isn’t what would have been on a list a year ago. These are things that I’ve lost ground on due to illness and that I’m hoping to get back with all these changes I’m making to better myself.

I’m hopeful that these changes will allow me to be able to take classes again. My hope is to be able to teach more classes of tiny baby nuggets, as the layout of teaching is actually ideal for everything I’m dealing with.

I saw my chiropractor last week and let him know everything that was going on. He agreed to sign off on a disability parking placard for me to help with going to the grocery store and other things that involve sometimes having to park in the back of parking lots, which drains energy I already only have in limited supply. This has caused me to have to do a lot of reevaluating of mindsets I have and how I will inevitably deal with people who are of the opinion that my issues aren’t good enough if I don’t fit the mold of what they think someone should look like to be able to use disability parking spaces. We’re going to start with a short-term placard and see if all these changes help me eventually not need it, but if not he’ll issue a permanent one. He also suggested scooters for me to look into getting to help me not have to walk around stores and venues, which also lets me sit instead of stand. Being that I won’t be working a full-time job, I’ll obviously have to save for one, and in doing so if I find I’m well enough to not need one before I have enough saved up, then I’ll just have all that money set aside for something else instead, but if I do need it I’ll get it.

It took me a second to get past the irony of how someone could be a ballet teacher, but also need handicap parking permits and scooters to get around, and I can’t expect everyone to understand it, but this is my reality. I have limited amounts of energy, and any way that helps me conserve that to use it where I most need to, like teaching ballet, I want to use to my advantage instead of wasting the limited amounts I have on something like having to walk from the back part of the parking lot.

Thankfully, I have met some of the most incredible people through social media that have helped me realize that this is something I need to do. That I’m not crazy or being dramatic, and that putting myself first is not only okay, but necessary. It has made all the difference in the world to have their examples to follow, and their stories to hear that help me see mine for what it truly is instead of what people have told me it should be.

This has been a hard post to write, not necessarily because I’m uncomfortable about talking about all this, but rather it’s just so much to say in such few words. Still, I wanted to give y’all a sort of reference point to come back to when stories inevitably come out of this change. I’m nervous as heck to make such a huge leap, but I’m excited and hopeful to see where I land.

Giselle.

As I sit on my bed, Giselle now behind me and the post-show-blues clearly evident, I figured now is as good a time as any to post a show recap.

Buckle in, kids, this one is going to be all over the place.

This was my first spring show not being able to dance in the corps. Nutcracker was my first show with this new chapter, so naturally i thought the worst of it was over since I had already been through a round of all the emotions that comes from such a drastic, uncontrollable change. Boy was I wrong.

The role of the Wilis is one I’ve always wanted to dance. I’m rather morbid, and being a dead spirit was always appealing to me. (Explaining this would take far longer than the attention span of a blog post. If you want that, you’ll have to meet me for coffee or something.) Getting to do such a deep and meaningful role was a dream, one that I realistically won’t have the opportunity to do again. I never thought when I started this whole Ballet thing that I would ever even have the opportunity, but I did, and my health made it a different story.

I can put all the optimistic spins on it I want, but what it comes down to is: this sucks. Having something completely out of my control come in and slowly start taking things from me isn’t my favorite thing. I try to stay positive and look at the bright side, until it gets so drastic that my life isn’t even one I recognize anymore. Starkly different from what it was even a year ago, I now find myself not being surprised by the impairments I’m dealing with. Not having full answers to go with my awkward explanations of why I’m “not really dancing” in the ballet and going from my students seeming me dance roles they could aspire to, to ones that don’t even require dance shoes. It brings on waves of emotions that one doesn’t really expect until you find yourself trying to navigate them, often with some well-meaning person staring at you as you mumble through.

But.

What I have also found is a slew of positive things I didn’t expect, and ones I may not have had if I had been the roles I most likely would have been if I weren’t sick.

I was able to watch one of the most beautiful and gripping scenes in all of Ballet, portrayed by incredibly talented friends of mine. It perfectly displayed what it was that drew me to Ballet in the first place, gripping my heart and making me want to do whatever it took to express things like I was seeing. This is what Ballet is all about. This is why we do what we do. This.

I was able to capture moments of friends of mine I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Nothing fancy, nothing extreme. Just simple, off guard moments that you want to hold on to after a show becomes a memory.

I was able to get to know some of my friends better, something that has meant more to my heart than I have words for.

I was able to help some of these dear friends in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible, and by doing so, meet a need that otherwise would have been left unmet.

One of the most difficult things of being sick is not being able to help. I have to slow myself down and instead be the one accepting help from others, or worse, asking for it. It’s infuriating. But with this show, I was able to do simple things, and I mean sometimes it was super simple, to help these people I love so much.

I am so ridiculously grateful to have been able to be a part of this show, and in such a fun way. My role was that of the Huntspeople, where we came on with dogs in Act I. Having those dogs lightened everything around us, and the handlers were really nice.

Being surrounded by such incredible people, especially when this all could have so easily been snatched from me completely, is something I cherish. My directors are truly one of a kind women that I aspire to be like in my own life. I’ll never know how I managed to end up involved in such a wonderful company, but I’ll try my hardest to never take it for granted. Not to mention the friends I’ve made through Ballet. Incredible people I’m honored to call friends, and so many of them. Who am I to find myself in a place where I know I will feel so incredibly loved any time I step foot there? People go their entire lives trying to find a place like this, and here I’ve found it so early on.

Grateful doesn’t begin to cut it.

And now, here are a few of my favorite pictures of all the Giselle shenanigans, as well as a few of my favorite people.

I always think I’m taking SO MANY PICTURES but then show ends and there’s so many I missed. Sigh. But I am incredibly grateful for the ones I have, and for the people I have in my life.

Beautiful Grief.

Grief is a powerful, confusing, painful emotion to have to endure. Unrelenting, it shows up uninvited at the most inopportune times possible, leaving the bearer to have to figure out how to navigate around it.

It doesn’t care if it’s show week, you’re out of understudies, surrounded by scores of well-intending people. It will hit you square in the jaw, shatter your world to pieces, and leave you to figure out how to put it back together again. What’s more, it keeps some of those pieces, so your picture is never truly whole again.

You eventually mend, learn to avoid the holes left where the pieces once fit, and find a way to love your picture just as it is. But you still remember those places where things used to be different, where people used to be.

But there’s a beauty in it.

And if you’ve never seen someone who was dancing through grief, you’ve never witnessed that beauty.

It’s show week, we’re doing Giselle, and a dear friend of mine just lost one of the closest people in her life. Yet, she’s here. She’s dancing. She’s living.

It may seem unfair. Why is she alive while her friend is not? Why does her story get to have more chapters when her friends ended so quickly after beginning? How does she figure out her life and her story with such a giant piece of it now gone?

But, here’s the thing, her friends story isn’t over. Not truly. It carries on in my friend. It carries on in her memories of her, in things she does in her honor, in stories she tells and pictures she has. As long as she is living, a part of her friend does, too.

If you’ve never seen someone dancing through their grief, you’ve never seen beauty.

Maybe part of it is the irony of the Ballet we’re performing this week, one of love and loss, but watching my friend in warm up yesterday and on stage today, I find it hard to explain. The raw passion; a passion for living, one that has every nerve exposed, one that hurts like hell right now, it doesn’t display the pain and the suffering expectantly happening inside my friend–it shows hope. It shows me that even when the loss is insurmountable, when the pain is too much, when the world as you know it is gone, life carries on. The things that sit at the core of your being come to the surface, and that is where your beauty is found.

My friend, she is the epitome of beauty. My life is better having her in it. She is kindness and light. She’s the type of person that makes you feel better just by being around her, and seeing her grieving reminds me that I still have her light and kindness in my life, undoubtedly carrying pieces of her friend in her heart as I do pieces of her in mine.

When everything in your life seems to be crumbling around you, remember the darkness can’t last forever. Find the light and cling to it.

You are so very loved.

Together.

It was recently the birthday of a friend of mine I met when I first began dancing. I text her birthday wishes after going through my TimeHop app and seeing all the many birthday greetings throughout the 7 years (woah) that I’ve known her.

I told her I was glad she was born, she replied with, “…I’m glad you were born too, and that we both took ballet.”

That got me thinking.

About life and the last 7.5 (how) years since I threw caution to the wind and took that first ballet class. About how many people I met through dance that are still in my life. How many are among my dearest friends. About opportunities I’ve had in my personal life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So. Many. Things.

When I made the decision to take that first class, I wasn’t merely beginning ballet classes. I was unknowingly setting myself up to be on the greatest life path I could have asked for, surrounded by some of the most incredible people.

I was giving myself the basis I needed to be able to compare the progression of my illness day-to-day.

I was making connections I never would have pursued otherwise.

When I think of my inner circle of friends, all but maybe 4 of them are from dance. Especially now that my illnesses are progressing, the kindness of my dance friends has been astronomical, filling voids I didn’t know I even had. Even being an ambassador for LIVE wouldn’t be a thing if it weren’t for my dance friends. And that is currently pretty detrimental in my life course right now. (More on that later.)

I’ve learned more about myself in the last 7.5 years than I ever thought possible.

My life may be unconventional, but it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

And the students.

The students I’ve gotten to meet and teach have changed my life in was I never imagined.

A friend of mine made a comment (hey, Emily) that even if I’m having the worst day imaginable going in to the studio to teach–you know, those days when it’s so bad that it’s written all over my face–I always leave looking like someone breathed fresh life into me. These kids give me life. They put air back in my lungs and blood in my veins. They remind me why I’m here. They inspire me.

One of my kids in my first class today was celebrating her ninth birthday. She was apologizing to me for having to leave early last class because of her head hurting (precious little nugget, apologizing for being sick) and how she had been crying before class, but she couldn’t remember why. She didn’t think it was because of her mom, but whatever the reason she had been crying, which made her stomach hurt, so she thought the headache was from that. Turns out she ended up getting really sick, fever and all.

And it made me realize something I can forget when I get wrapped up in the selfishness of my own world. These kids are living their own lives, they’re facing their own struggles. There are things that make them feel happy or sad, and sometimes they can happen right before class. Sometimes they make them feel things deeply, and sometimes they don’t always show when it’s bothering them. As this little one told me of her health issues from that weekend in a way most nine year olds wouldn’t know (she’s had more than her share of illnesses) I realized the depth these kids souls are capable of having. I realized the power of influence we as teachers truly hold, and how it’s up to us to use it to leave them feeling better or worse.

When one of my kids in my last class was exceptionally quiet, sitting a little closer to me than usual at the beginning circle, I held her four-year-old hand as the other kids went around the circle sharing about their Easter holiday, hoping that she would associate that place with safety, that something so simple would help soothe whatever in her little heart was battling to surface.

These kids mean the world to me. I love them more than I have words to express. I didn’t get to where I am alone. I got here due to the people I’ve met since I’ve danced. I got here from the people in my life who’ve believed in me. People who’ve held my hand as I struggled to simply remain. People who have set the example for me to follow of how to love simply and love well. I stay here because of the assistants in my class who help me avoid things that make my body hurt worse than normal.

We’re in this together.

And I am so grateful.

(Here’s some pictures of Annabelle and I. Happy birthday (week) friend, I’m glad to know you.)